The role of genetics in relation to some conditions is well known. In some families, certain conditions are passed down through the generations, making pregnancies a concerning affair. When conditions like down syndrome are added to the mix, pregnancy becomes even more complicated. Hence, many couples undertake DNA tests while they are pregnant to screen for such conditions, as well as ascertain the gender and paternity of the unborn child. However, conditions like obesity and alcoholism are not solely determined by genetics. To better understand these phenomena, one has to delve into epigenetics.
Role of epigenetics in determining conditions
What is epigenetics?
To first understand epigenetics, it’s important to define a genome. In simple terms, a genome is the entire DNA code present in each of our cells. It primarily comprises four compounds known as adenine, thymine, cytosine, and guanine.
This genome or DNA is tightly packed in our single cells and bound together using proteins. When a particular gene has to be processed and examined, that particular section of the DNA is determined and studied. This process of understanding a gene is known as gene expression or epigenetics.
Is epigenetics flexible?
Unlike the basic genetic code, which is constant, epigenetics is flexible and can be altered in each individual by changes in behaviors/habits. For instance, the lifestyle and habits of a pregnant woman can impact the epigenetics of the unborn child.
Epigenetics and obesity
Obesity is one condition that is determined by epigenetics. One of the most glaring examples of this was seen in a series of mouse studies. It was found that when a particular gene called agouti is activated, the mouse tended to gain weight and became obese. And this gene was activated or deactivated on the basis of the eating habits of the pregnant mouse.
Epigenetics and alcoholism
Similarly, conditions like alcoholism and even diabetes are multifactoral in nature. That means the likelihood of a person developing these conditions depends on genetics as well as the environment. It influences various parts of gene expression such as psychomotor activity, cravings and the tendency to relapse. Hence, epigenetics encompasses both these factors in their analysis, thereby revolutionizing gene expression.
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